It seems, like a lot of petrol-heads, Marc Tustin finds it difficult not to keep swimming through and sampling the oceans of automotive temptation out there. “I had a beautiful C2 fuelie Corvette at the time (a fuelie is an example with the factory fuel-injection option – Ed) and a friend had approached me about the car,” he explains. Meanwhile a private collection in Victoria had popped up on the market and one of the offerings was a Hemi Cuda. “I’d wanted one for a long time but was losing faith that I’d one I liked in Australia,” he said.
That was 18 months ago. The car in had been in Australia since 2011 but had been kept hidden in a shed – this represents its first public outing.
“It’s a beautiful car,” he enthuses. “It’s a matching numbers example and they built around 660 Hemi Cudas in 1970 and around another 170 the following year. That was out of a total Cuda production of around 70,000.”
The option for a Hemi engine from new was about US$990, where the car was only about $3500 – so it was a big step up for a premium engine. All the racers wanted the Hemi because they were a great powerplant and were ripe for modification. By way of contrast, a 400 six pack added a couple of hundred dollars, which is why that package was so popular.
Marc’s Ivy Green Hemi underwent a major restoration effort back in the USA, in the early 1990s. Before anything was unbolted, professional Mopar documentation expert Galen Glover was hired to record the car’s history and condition to that date, right down to the assembly chalk marks. The owner at that point was an Ohio lawyer named Jack Stewart and he asked Mopar guru Roger Gibson to take on the restoration.
Gibson’s estimate was about three times what Jack wanted to pay. Nevertheless he had big ambitions: he wanted to win an upcoming Mopar Nationals and a concours gold.
About a year went by, during which it had been at a smaller restoration shop. They had been sending progress shots of the car and, back then, he’d already paid US$25,000 towards the project. Jack believed the resto folk were on the case. “He believed the guys were doing the right thing and the project was down to the final details. He had it booked in to the upcoming nationals,” says Marc.
“He went to a Mopar event and got chatting to a couple of locals, and the conversation turned into an awkward silence when the subject of Jack’s car and the nearby resto shop came up. After some prodding, they revealed the car was nowhere near complete and in fact was still in bits, and boxes, scattered across the shop.”
So he went to the shop and discovered it was closed. Eventually he tracked down one of the former owners and got the car released.
So, perhaps feeling chastened, he went back to Roger Gibson. That was when they discovered all the horrors that can happen with an unscrupulous restoration. For example an engine rebuild had been paid for, but all they had done was paint it.
Gibson’s reputation is very different. Sellers and auction houses as a matter of course use his name to boost the value, if a car has been through his shop.
Through all those dramas, Jack kept excellent records. The car’s original build sheet, delivery documents and keys are all together, plus he kept a comprehensive portfolio on the Gibson restoration. Finally, in 1998, Jack realised his ambition, where the car won concours gold at the Mopar Nationals. It went on to win multiple trophies since then. Various publications, such as Mopar Action in the USA, have also used it for technical reference guides on how to restore a Hemi Cuda.
Evidently Gibson meticulously replicated all the factory flaws as well as the good things, right down to overspray and drips in known areas. To give you some idea of the effort they went to, Marc still has the 50-year-old NOS wheels and tyres, so the car can be set up exactly as it left the dealership.
“Jack bought it off a drag race buddy in his local town,” explains Marc, “He was looking for an Ivy Green example. It had 36,000 original miles on it back then and has about 37,000 on it now.” Jack passed away in about around 2003.
“It was sold as part of a collection to a guy called Marvin Hill, who owns Hill’s Classic Cars in Ohio. I visited recently and spoke to him – he’s known as a T-bird guy – plus Roger Gibson, who still runs three big restoration shops.”
“It runs and feels like a brand new car,” says Marc. The powerplant is a 426 Hemi claiming 425 horsepower, backed by a 727 heavy duty TorqueFlite transmission with slapstick change. It’s basically what you specced for a drag racer, back in the day,” he adds.
“It’s beautiful to drive. Being a big block it’s lazy and runs cool until you put your foot down. When you do that, it opens up the twin four-barrel Carter carburettors and I’m guessing it could empty the fuel tank very quickly!”
Not surprisingly, you can see a big grin spread across his face whenever Marc jumps in it. Despite that, he seems to be ready to move on and has the car advertised on tradeuniquecars.com.au.
We have Marc to thank for finding this car for us. Originally we had another Charger lined up, weeks in advance. With people flying to Queensland to do the story, we got a message from the owner that he couldn’t make it – he was still on holiday. Oh dear.
So I rang Marc, the Cuda owner, in a bit of a flap. “Mate, can you get on to your network and see what you can find?” And by the way, it would be really nice if the car was an orange R/T.
Next thing I know there’s a message from Tom Garland, who owns Leo. Eh? Am I missing something? It turns out the car used to belong to the legendary racer Leo Geoghegan (yes, it’s been documented) and is now known simply as Leo. Or Leo the Charger, if you must be formal.
Tom takes up the story. “It’s a 1971 E38 big tank Charger built for homologation for racing “The story as I know it is that it was formerly owned by Leo Geoghegan and was thought lost, perhaps parted out, and 1998 was the last time it was seen.
“Leo owned it until 1992 and it was his special events car. He sold it to a gentlemen by the name of Graeme Lalor and we have all the documentation for that. In ’98, Graeme sold it on and the car was taken off the road and ‘lost’.”
Then, cryptically, about 18 months ago Tom received a message from Paul Norris from Elko Performance in Victoria, which simply said the Geoghegan E38 big tank is for sale. That’s all it said.
Three or four days later after chasing him, he confirmed its existence and that he knew where it was. “He made a call and the gentleman was interested in selling,” says Tom. “I was quite excited – fly down to Victoria from Queensland to hunt down the car. As it turned out, the car was in Brisbane, just down the road! So I drove down that very day, met the owner at his house and went over the car. It was just a rolling shell.”
The story was it had been part-restored some 13 years ago and a cover had simply been thrown over the car and it was forgotten. “So when I found it,” says Tom, “It was painted but it was empty – no interior, no glass, just a rolling shell. It did have the numbers-matching engine, plus boxes and boxes of worn–out components.”
So, lovingly, over the last 12 months or so, Tom and partner Jan spent over 1000 hours getting the old thing up and running. And it looks great. “We got it running for our wedding on May 5 last year,” says Tom, grinning, “It was a huge journey!”
Somewhere along the way Tom tracked down former owner Graeme Lalor. “We got together and he brought over a flash drive with years and years of documentation for the car and we couldn’t think of anything better than to call the Geoghegan car ‘Leo’. Queensland plates still happened to have Leo E38 available, so I jumped on that.
Engine 4345cc inline six with three twin-choke Weber carbs
Power 208.5kW @ 5000rpm
Torque 420Nm @ 3700rpm
Gearbox 3-speed floor-shift manual
Suspension Independent with torsion bars (f); live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs (r)
Brakes 11-inch discs (f) 9-inch drums (r)
1970 PLYMOUTH HEMI CUDA Engine 6974cc V8 with twin Carter 4-barrel carbs
Power 317kW @ 5000rpm
Torque 664Nm @4000rpm
Gearbox 3-speed HD Torqueflite 727 auto
Suspension Independent with torsion bars(f); live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs (r)
Brakes 11-inch discs (f) 11-inch finned drums (r)
“It’s known everywhere as Leo.”
So what exactly did Leo the human do with Leo the car? “Graeme met Leo to buy the car in NSW. It was explained that it was his special events car, he flogged the daylights out of it. It was pretty rough at that stage. It didn’t have the correct diff any more because it had been blown up; The gearbox had been blown up, the engine needed rebuilding, it had been left outside. I mean seriously, who wanted an R/T Charger in the eighties and nineties? Nobody. You couldn’t give them away!” he said.
What’s it like to drive? “It’s a big tank Charger – the Webers are cranky and it’s everything you love about a piece of Australian muscle history,” enthuses Tom.
“So long as you’ve got it rolling faster than 40 miles an hour it’s the best car in the world. It’s quick, it accelerates, it’s good through turns, but in that it is an old 1971 car. Driving here today, I was trying to find 4IP on the old AM radio! Sadly it doesn’t exist any longer, so we had to listen to the soundtrack of the induction of the triple Webers as we’re rolling along.”
You know what I reckon? Half his luck…